– Summary –
Director : David Koepp
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Wole Parks, Aasfi Mandvi, Jamie Chung, Henry O, Christopher Place, Boyce Wong, Kevin Bolger.
Approx Running Time : 92 Minutes
Synopsis: A New York City bike courier is chased by a NYPD Detective who owes the Chinese betting underworld a lot of money.
What we think : Breathless chase thriller stumbles around with flashbacks and side-plots, thinking itself a lot more clever than it really is; Gordon-Levitt is cheeky cool, Michael Shannon freaky-doo, and Dania Ramirez is sexy too. I guess there’s worse ways to take in the street-life of New York City. Worth a look.
A hell of a ride.
It’s long been my dream to visit New York City. Honestly, it’s now right at the top of my Bucket List, since I covered off several other locations in a 2008 trip to Europe. The history of the city, the vast urban landscape and the fact that millions of people live on an island connected to the mainland by a bunch of bridges, as well as the lifestyle and tenor of the city’s population melting-pot, make New York the go-to city for not only myself, but thousands of tourists every year. Down the years, filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen have used the city as a muse, a backdrop for many of their movies (although Allen much less now that’s he’s based in Europe these days), and New York has also seen its fair share of cinematic grandstanding – destroyed in films like Armageddon, Independence Day and The Avengers, while its romantic side is often depicted in the plethora of rom-coms released each year – is there nothing New York City cannot do? A little known element (outside of the US, I’d wager) is the use of bike couriers within Manhattan’s streets, delivering important packages across the metropolitan area even in this modern age of scanners, emails and FexEX. Premium Rush incorporates the adrenaline-rush of riding NYC’s streets with the thrill of a corrupt cop, Chinese gangsters, and competition from other riders to deliver a specific package; is David Koepp’s breathless action flick a worthy entry into classic NYC cinema? Or is it another in the long line of wannabe pretenders, using the city as a backdrop that could virtually be interchangeable with any other location?
Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a bike messenger in New York City, preferring the fast pace and thrills of the street instead of his original intention, that of becoming a lawyer. Wilee’s girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) thinks he should make something of his life, with her own studies going towards her no longer needing the dangerous job of being a bike messenger as well. Fellow messenger, Manny (Wole Parks), is a highly competitive rival for Vanessa’s affections, although she continually rebuffs his advances. Vanessa’s roommate, Nima (Jamie Chung) has just paid off a Chinese hawaladar, Mr Leung (Henry O), in order to get her son over the the US on her student visa, but local loan-shark Mr Lin (Boyce Wong) learns that whoever returns the ticket to Leung will snag the payment of $50,000. Lin approaches Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), a gambling-addicted NY Police officer who owes him a lot of money, and explains that if he can get that ticket, his debt will be wiped clean. When Nima sends the ticket from her college office to a location in New York City, she request that Wilee take the job, since she’s heard from Vanessa that he’s the best at what he does. Monday, trying to intercept the ticket from Wilee, engages the courier in a cat-and-mouse chase through the streets of the city, with Wilee managing to elude his grasp each step of the way.
There’s one thing Premium Rush is really, really good at. Showing dudes on bikes riding through New York City. Frankly, the thought of riding a two-wheeled pedal-powered death-machine through the canyons of Manhattan’s alleyways and avenues is terrifying, and Premium Rush shows us just why that is – the maze of streets and the use of other vehicles, from cars to trucks and buses, all make for a highly combustible combination of human flesh and immovable metal, all ready to collide at the slightest mistake. This high-risk activity forms the basis for all the action of Premium Rush, a film worthy of entry into the “disposable cinema” echelon whereby you watch it once, and never need to again. These films are not always bad, and Premium Rush isn’t a bad film by any stretch, but there’s not going to come a time in the future where I’m going to consider this essential viewing.
Directed by one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, David Koepp (who wrote the original Mission Impossible flick, which was awesome, and the last Indiana Jones film, Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, which was, frankly, not), Premium Rush puts the audience directly in harms way as Wilee (as in Wyle E Coyote) scampers through New York on his mission to deliver a valuable ticket and save a young boys life. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job as Wilee, and Michael Shannon does his wonderful wide-eyed wild-man schtick once again, but the film is beset by a refusal to get off the bikes at times, often to the detriment of believability. The fact that the film is based on people who ride bikes for a living seems to mean that they can never get off them, and the film’s ride-at-all-costs mentality means little things such as character development or subtlety become lost in the spinning spokes.
Premium Rush is nothing if not a wonderful travelogue of New York’s streets, albeit at a rapid pace. I’m not 100% sure, but I’d say nearly the entire film is shot on location, with very few sets or studio-bound sequences being required. There’s a tangible “everydayness” to the film, an almost guerrilla-style of shooting whereby the entire film was shot without permission on the streets (it was, it just doesn’t feel like it), with actual New York denizens providing the backdrop to much of the action. It’s nice, not having the saccharine sheen of a rom-com feel, or the gritty Scorsese-crime tonality; this is pure unfiltered New York in bright sunshine, and it’s refreshing. As a backdrop to a film, New York takes some beating.
The story interweaves through flashbacks and side-plots, unspooling in a manner that provides mystery to much of what transpires early, only to be divulged later in the movie. Koepp wisely uses this method, for I doubt the film would be as entertaining if it had been told in chronological order; kudos for keeping the audience guessing. He also wisely makes the most of Michael Shannon’s scrambling, spittle-lovin’ Bad Guy, keeping him within the frame at all costs – even though the role is something of a nothing piece for Shannon, he elevates the film with his sincerity. Shannon and Gordon-Lovitt aside, the rest of the cast are nameless extras, although Dania Ramirez does provide for some nice latex-wearing eye-candy, so there’s that I guess. Everyone else, however, play single-dimension characters who offer little more than plot mechanics.
Premium Rush is junk cinema, the fleeting, swift delicious candy of movie-making that offers temporary entertainment for a time-wasting 90 minutes. While it’ll never be considered a classic, and no doubt will be missed my many as an “never heard of that one” flick, Premium Rush is effectively thrilling, cheesily gratuitous and wantonly inane. In the moment, you’ll enjoy it, but after the credits roll, there’s no mistake that it’s immediately forgettable – not that that’s a bad thing – as you move onto something else. A pleasantly diverting waste of time.